I walked into my endo’s office yesterday, and was greeted by the receptionist with a smile (and by name). ‘You’re next; shouldn’t be too long,’ she said to me.

I was especially grateful for the welcome I received yesterday. Because earlier in the day I’d started the search for a new GP. It hadn’t gone well.

My quite awesome GP who I’d been seeing for almost twenty years decided to move interstate which is incredibly inconvenient. For me. But apparently it was a good opportunity for his family, so off they went and now I am left GP-less. Because, yes, it’s all about me.

So, I’ve been looking and asking friends in the area who they see and if they would recommend them. There is a woman at the same practice as my previous GP who I quite like, and a few people had suggested. I’d seen her a few times when my GP had been on leave, and she knows my convoluted medical history. But when I rang for an appointment the other day, I was told she was booked up until March. M-A-R-C-H. Over a month away. I was told that I could call at 8.20 the next morning as they keep a few on-the-day appointments, but there was no guarantee I could see the GP I wanted.

I sighed and said that I’d call back the following day. And when I did, there were no appointment times with the doctor I wanted. Continuity of care is important to me – I don’t want to have to explain the CGM on my arm, the pump down my bra, the way I manage my diabetes each time I need a quick visit to the GP for a UTI, or sore throat that won’t go away.

I decided that I probably needed to find another doctor, so I called another clinic that had been recommended to me. I didn’t speak to the receptionist. But I did hear the hold message.

Firstly, the calm voice on the recording told me that the doctors at the clinic all had lots of experience and were there to serve the local community, and that the whole clinic operated under a philosophy of patient-centred care. ‘Excellent,’ I thought. ‘That’s a buzz phrase I like. Good start’.

But then came a shopping list of things that callers should know before pressing hash to speak with someone.

  • Appointments can only be made before midday. If you call outside those hours, you will be asked to call back the following day
  • Same day appointments can only be made between 8.30am and 9.30am, although most will be taken by 8.45am
  • Doctors generally will not take or return calls from patients unless this has been agreed upon during an appointment
  • No results given over the phone by doctors (or anyone else); you need to a follow up appointment
  • No bulk billing is offered (even for people on a HCC)
  • If you are late, you will miss your appointment
  • You will not be contacted if the GP is running late
  • But you should call to see if the GP is on time
  • Missed appointments (by the patient) incur a no-show fee
  • If you want a referral (even to an existing specialist) you must make an appointment to see the doctor
  • Ongoing referrals will not be provided
  • If you want a prescription (even for an existing medication) you must make an appointment to see the doctor.

After listening to the message three times – just to make sure that I had everything correct – I hung up. There was literally not a single thing on that list that could be considered to be patient-centred.

Before I go on, I want to say that I know that GPs are overworked. I know that they are underpaid. I know that there are too many people trying to get into see them, and their time is precious. I can’t even imagine what it takes to run a GP clinic – or a clinic for any discipline really. I assume that there will be some using the service who have unreasonable expectations and demand that a doctor be available to them at all times of the day and night. So, rules are needed to deal with those sorts of people.

I am not one of those people. I am, however, a person who lives with type 1 diabetes and sometimes, I need a prescription for insulin because I thought I had another repeat left, or my current prescription has expired, or I lost the last one, or the littlest dog ate it (hasn’t happened, but wouldn’t put it past her). Or I need a referral to one of the other specialists I get to see semi-regularly (such as my dermatologist for psoriasis, rheumatologist for psoriatic arthritis, OB/GYN for gynae stuff etc.). And I definitely appreciate an ongoing referral, because, you know, diabetes doesn’t go away and I will need to see my endo forever (or until she retires, at which point I’ve decided I’ll give up this diabetes palaver too).

I don’t think these are unreasonable requests to have of a GP clinic. I don’t expect to be bulk billed. I am not asking for a diagnosis over the phone; or a phone consultation. But surely, it’s a waste of time (mine and the doctor’s) for me to need an appointment for a prescription for a drug that I will need to take FOREVER, and dose myself. Or for an annual referral to a doctor I’ve been seeing for over seventeen years for a health condition that I’ve had for almost twenty-one years. Or to be told that my A1c (or whatever else is being checked) is in range.

I wrote last week about how we get burnt out with needing to be advocates for ourselves. I felt a wave of that hit me as I listened to the list of rules from the GP clinic I will not be going to. I don’t want to start by giving a medical history … and then needing to beg for a little flexibility in their rules.

Does this make me sound like a princess? Maybe. Does it make me sound unreasonable? Perhaps it does.

But healthcare settings cannot have it both ways. They cannot promise that they are patient-centred if they are actively setting rules that make it more difficult – and exhausting – for us to live with a chronic health condition.

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